Over the past half decade or so, socialist thought has seen something of a resurgence in the United States. Undoubtedly this is due at least in part to Bernie Sanders’ two presidential campaigns. In the wake of his 2015 run, and the election of Donald Trump, the Democratic Socialists of America saw a massive spike in membership; DSA remains the largest socialist organization in the US (and the one with which the majority of PCS contributors are registered). Four members of Congress—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman—are members of DSA; socialists were profiled in magazines and interviewed in newspapers. Yet a misunderstanding persists, and a fundamental one at that: the question of what socialism actually is.
In the most basic terms, socialism is democracy. Open a dictionary, even Dictionary.com, and you will likely see socialism defined as “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, capital, land, etc., by the community as a whole, usually through a centralized government.” What does this mean in practice?
It means that socialists seek a world in which the people who perform labor in a society get to ownership over that labor. For example, the socialist looks at the arrangement of a firm like Amazon, where a CEO who performs next to no labor makes millions a day while his workers make barely $15 an hour—meaning that CEO makes nearly 60 times the median compensation of his employees—and sees a grotesque and unequal arrangement, essentially a dictatorship. The socialist looks at the (theoretically) democratic structure of American government and asks why we cannot run businesses the same way. The socialist solution to this is to eliminate the middleman; the workers, who perform the labor, would be given full control of Amazon to profit off their labor and then distribute goods as they see fit.
“The socialist looks at the (theoretically) democratic structure of American government and asks why we cannot run businesses the same way.”
Essentially, socialism takes the fundamental principle of democracy—that all people deserve a say in the way their life is governed—and applies this principle to the economic sphere as well as the political sphere. In the same way that people cannot be truly free if they have no voice in government, they cannot be truly free if they have no voice in their workplace, particularly given that they spend most of their time there.
Socialists recognize that, just as you can’t meaningfully be free if you have no say in your livelihood, you can’t meaningfully be free if you can’t afford healthcare, or if you don’t have a roof over your head, or if you don’t get paid a living wage. The socialist program is about getting people the resources they need to lead dignified lives. This is why socialists frequently speak of decommodification, of treating things like housing, healthcare, and education as rights rather than as goods to be bought and sold in a marketplace. Essentially, the core of socialism is the belief that people need certain needs met in order to meaningfully participate in society.
By Victor Eremita, Contributor